Lasting development

Tony Knoderer | Oct 01, 2020

Art Riley

Fewer than 10 years ago, Art Riley couldn’t have guessed that this moment would come. The presidency of Kiwanis International? He had never even anticipated running for a spot on the Board of Trustees.

“I came on board unexpectedly,” Riley says. “I sure didn’t set out or plan on it.”

When a board candidate dropped out for health reasons in 2013, Riley was approached by fellow members about stepping into the race. They knew him as a leader — not only a longtime member of the Kiwanis Club of Westminster, Maryland, but as governor for the Maryland District in 2007-08.  

Before Riley knew it, he had come within 20 votes of becoming a trustee during the Kiwanis International convention in Vancouver. Encouraged by that experience, he tried again in Chiba, Japan, the next year — and got elected.  

He smiles a little, looking back now. “I eventually said, ‘I will never run for president.’”  

But here he is. For Riley, becoming the 2020-21 Kiwanis International president is the latest in a lifetime of lessons about principles and possibilities.  

Ideas and goals
Even before the coronavirus altered so many of the ways that service organizations interact with communities, Riley saw Kiwanis facing a crossroads — and an opportunity.

“We’re a membership organization,” he says. “If we don’t grow and change with the world, we won’t exist.”

One way that Kiwanis can thrive, he adds, is by leaning into an established strength: leadership development. In fact, he wants to set a course that eventually helps Kiwanis arrive as a sought-out resource.  

“I want us to become known as a trainer of leaders in the community,” he says. “I think we can develop a product that helps Kiwanis attract people to leadership education.”

That would make Kiwanis particularly useful and inviting for younger people. In fact, leadership development could become a kind of two-way tool, strengthening the future both for young people and for Kiwanis itself.

“I would love to see Kiwanis become an online leader of education for our youth,” Riley says. “I see people coming out of college who have technical tools but not the ‘soft skills’ of leadership — how to manage, how to inspire others.”  

A career of service
Riley has been a pharmacist for nearly 50 years, starting his career in Baltimore after earning his degree from the University of Maryland and then spending two years in an academic and residency program run by the university with Johns Hopkins.

But his hometown of Westminster, Maryland, has always been close to his heart. After eight years in Baltimore, Riley moved back to Westminster to practice. He has been there since.

“Being a pharmacist, as I practiced it, was a service profession,” Riley says. “There are times when you walk into a room and your job is to help get a person out of pain. In 48 years, my work has sometimes meant helping someone get sitting up and enjoying the last moments of their life pain-free. That’s impactful.

“That had to have an influence on my life in Kiwanis,” he adds. “Where the line is between them, that’s impossible to say. Did I become a pharmacist to serve people, or did being raised to serve people make me interested in being a pharmacist?”

Family matters 
Riley joined Key Club during his high school years in the mid-1960s. In fact, he was lieutenant governor for the Capital District in his senior year. But he knew about service — and the Kiwanis family — before he ever stepped foot in high school.

Riley’s father was a Kiwanis club member, and Art distinctly remembers being part of some club activities as a child. There was the antique-sale fundraiser at which Art ran a hot dog stand when he was 11. And the time his dad, then the club’s vice president, took the family to the Kiwanis International convention in San Francisco in 1956.

Riley himself would become a Kiwanian in 1980, joining the Westminster club. (He is now also a member of the Centennial Internet Club and the Kiwanis Club of State Line, Maryland.)  

He also connects with people through his religious faith, says his wife, Vickie. He has served as a lay preacher at their church for more than 25 years and even has a published collection of his sermons called “At the Foot of the Cross.”

“I think (lay preaching) certainly helped with his development as a speaker and a leader,” Vickie says.

Looking forward
Like Art, Vickie is a member of the Westminster club. She’s also a retired teacher — and a past club president (2018-19). For Art and Vickie, Kiwanis leadership has resulted in shared experiences, including a site visit to see the fight against maternal and neonatal tetanus in Cambodia.  

“That was a very impactful journey for us,” Art says. “I don’t think Kiwanians realize the difference they’ve made worldwide and the ripple effect of that project.”

Such potential for changing lives also lies close to home. Riley has seen it in Maryland: His club sponsors four Key Clubs, and he is a Kiwanis advisor to one of them.  

“Key Clubbers are very adept,” he says. ‘They have an unbridled affinity for helping other kids. If we can help them develop into leaders, it will pay dividends for generations.”

While Riley sees family as his personal legacy, he would like leadership development to be part of his Kiwanis legacy — for youth and adults alike. As the new president, that work is underway now. And it’s meant to last.

“He takes it seriously, he thinks big-picture,” Vickie says. “He wants to do things that keep the organization relevant for a long time to come.”

And it’s all motivated, as Riley himself says, by love: “I love people, I love my faith, I love Kiwanis. It makes me want to encourage people to be the best they can.”


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